Hurricane Dorian death toll will be ‘staggering’, says Bahamas as storm barrels up US coast

‘The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information,’ minister tells media. ‘I have never lived through anything like this’

Colin Drury@colin__drury
Monday 09 September 2019 10:36
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Hurricane Dorian pounds relentlessly at Bahamas

The death toll from Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas will be "staggering", the country’s government has warned – as the storm now begins to batter the US east coast.

The official body count in the Caribbean nation stood at 30 on Friday morning but, with thousands missing, it is expected to rise sharply.

“Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering,” health minister Duane Sands told local radio. “Make no bones about it, the numbers are going to be far higher than 23 [the death toll as he spoke]. It is going to be significantly higher than that.

"The public needs to prepare for unimaginable information… I have never lived through anything like this and I don’t want to live through anything like this again.”

His words came as the sheer devastation wrought by the category 5 storm started to emerge.

The UN estimates some 76,000 people are now in immediate danger of disease and starvation, while the Red Cross said some 45 per cent of homes in some areas had been either severely damaged or destroyed. Surveyors put the total cost of the catastrophe at $7 billion.

Aerial photos show miles of flattened and flooded communities across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama – both of which bore the brunt of Dorian’s 185 mph winds. On the ground, local journalists reported that vast swathes of the islands were essentially uninhabitable with water and power supplies down and bodies piling up. Militias have been formed, local media said, to prevent widespread looting.

As aid workers poured into the country on Thursday and Friday, meanwhile, harrowing tales started to emerge from those who had been caught in the churning storm.

One man, Richard Johnson, told of how his six-year-old brother Adrian was missing after being whipped by the winds into churning flood waters. “Given the circumstances,” he said. “I'm not that hopeful."

Another survivor, Ramond King, said he could only watch as swirling gusts ripped the roof off his home – then took his neighbour's entire house away into the sky. “This can't be real, this can't be real," he said. "Nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies."

In the waterside community of Mudd – now not much more than ruins – people were reported to be picking through the debris while avoiding a body hanging underneath a tree branch.

“Ain’t nobody come to get them,” said Cardot Ked, who has lived in the area for 25 years.

An aerial view of damage from Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour

Aid supplies being delivered to the country now include eight tonnes of ready meals, storage units and generators, the UN World Food Programme said. Some £4.3 million has been put aside by the agency to fund a three-month emergency operation there.

Neighbouring Jamaica has said it will send 150 military personnel to secure lawless areas, while, in Barbados, prime minister Mia Mottley linked the devastation to climate change.

“We are on the frontline of the consequences,” she said. “And the vulnerability that attaches therefore to us is a matter we’re trying to get the international community to deal with consistently.”

She added: “People say the words and hear you, but they don’t follow through.”

But as both rescue and reckoning started in the Caribbean, the hurricane has now started to strike the US.

Although downgraded to a category 2 storm, it looks set to cause significant damage as it barrels up the country’s north-east coast. Millions of people have been ordered to evacuate in North and South Carolina.

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Already overnight on Thursday, twisters peeled away roofs and flipped trailers in South Carolina, and left more than 250,000 homes and businesses without power. In Charleston, the state’s oldest city, trees and power lines littered flooded streets.

By 4am Friday morning, the US National Hurricane Center said Dorian was moving north-east along the side of North Carolina at about 13 mph.

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